Many people told me that I should meet artist, Laurie Marshall. I am delighted that I finally had an opportunity to do so. I had seen a few of his paintings at Gallery Gachet in Vancouver, and was interested to meet the man behind the art.
Laurie is a gentle and reserved man, who loves to paint. He had always doodled a bit with pencil and paper, but first picked up a paintbrush at an art drop-in centre when he was about 50 years old. I got the impression that he was facing some personal challenges at that time, and painting was a fulfilling activity. Laurie’s life changed dramatically one day when an art collector saw his work and suggested that a local gallery have a look at it. The Marion Scott gallery in Vancouver held a couple of exhibits of Laurie’s work and the public responded in full support. Since then, Laurie has been painting on his own, showing a few pieces from time to time at Gallery Gachet. (Note my earlier blog about Canadian artist Menno Krant, who has an identical story of discovery.)
Laurie’s tiny apartment is filled with paintings. They are heaped on the table, stacked in the closet, layered in a bookcase, and piled on chairs around his bed. He likes to look at them before going to sleep; it helps him see what needs to be done because, he says, paintings are never finished. His cat, Patches, sits wherever he can find an empty spot. All of Laurie’s paintings are on thin pieces of particle board. (Does that make art conservationists’ hair stand on end?) And they are all small – usually around 12 x 16 inches. He signs them “elbo”, which is a nickname he uses for artwork.
Laurie grew up in farming country in British Columbia, hence the appearance of cows, horses, and other creatures in his paintings. Small cars are often seen zipping along curvy streets. He doesn’t like cars much, so they have to be small and unobtrusive, like Volkswagen bugs. I noticed that similar images, like boats filled with round-faced smiling people, appeared in several paintings. (They reminded me of Annie Hooper’s little people statues. See my earlier blog.) I also noticed a scene that I thought looked like the Last Supper (pictured above). I asked Laurie about that, and he agreed that it was an image he liked, even though he was not a religious person. Crosses also appear from time to time and he includes them because they are such an iconic image in Western society.
Like every artist, Laurie likes to talk about his work. His art idols are the same as mine: Dubuffet, Rouault, and Klee. He says he doesn’t know much about art history, but sometimes looks at books in the library. He applies paint in thick layers and often scratches images through the paint. He uses a palette knife or his hands to work – he doesn’t like paint brushes. Sometimes he has an idea of an image he would like to paint, but usually he just starts painting and good things happen.
Laurie will be one of four artists in a major exhibit at Gallery Gachet in April. I will report back then about the work he chose to display.